Thank you, Sam, for this wonderful account of your friendship with our mutual friend "Arthur" who has left us both enriched and inspired to continue the quest for truth and justice.
"ME AND JIBBY"
by Sam Subotich
Arthur "Jibby" Jibilian (left) and Sam Subotich
"Tommy's" Restaurant in Sylvania, Ohio
October 3, 2004
Photo courtesy of Sam Subotich
Well, how do I begin? My father, Bozidar ("Robert") Subotich was in the U.S. Navy in WWII and always talked about General Mihailovich and the gallant Chetniks. He saved many articles, bought books, and, in general, was always looking for answers as to the truth of what really happened back in his country of birth. He instilled that in me, and there started my lifelong quest for answers.
When the communists took control of Yugoslavia after WWII, their lies never seemed to end. I was mystified. These lies continued on all fronts. One prime example was the 1978 movie “Force 10 from Navarone” starring Robert Shaw, Harrison Ford and Richard Kiel. This movie was based on a book by Alistair MacLean. It showed the "collaborationist Chetniks" as being under German control and led by "General Drazak" (note the “k”) portrayed by Richard Kiel (aka: "Jaws" from the James Bond movies), and this really boiled my blood, as this movie even portrayed Chetniks killing American airmen! How could this lie be allowed?!
The "Freedom of Information Act" and the release of previously classified information regarding General Mihailovich's Legion of Merit Medal, which was posthumously awarded him in 1948 by President Truman, along with the continued outreach by the rescued airmen of "Operation Halyard", especially Major Richard L. Felman, whom I was proud to call my friend, fueled and aided my quest. It wasn't until Aleksandra Rebic and her father had an outstanding event in April 1993, at the Congress Hotel in Chicago to honor the 100th birthday of General Mihailovich, that my quest gained a permanent foothold. This is when I knew it was going to be a lifelong goal to pursue the truth and make it known. Even historians with Masters Degrees are not aware of the "Halyard Mission", the remarkable event in our history which was the essence of this quest for truth and justice. Since then, I have written hundreds of letters to various groups, politicians, and publications in support of the truth and to inspire the establishment of a monument to General Mihailovich in Washington D.C. as a reflection of American gratitude for all that Mihailovich did for the Allies in WWII. The late Senator Strom Thurmond was one of our Senators who really gave his support to the House Bill which was initiated on behalf of this effort, only to be told “No, we already have too many statues." Bills were initiated on behalf of this cause in both the House and the Senate, but the effort never came to fruition due to "political considerations".
It was really in these times that I sought out my heroes such as Major Richard L. Felman, Captain Nick Lalich, local Ravna Gora Chetniks, and especially OSS radio man Arthur "Jibby" Jibilian who lived in nearby Fremont, Ohio. Though Art did not attend the Chicago celebration, I knew that nothing was going to stop me from meeting him and welcoming him to the Serbian community here in America. Arthur had a story to tell, and I was going to make sure it was told. So, in the spring of 1993, Art and I corresponded via letters and telephone calls numerous times, but it wasn't until we met several times at my sister’s restaurant, "Tommy's", in nearby Sylvania,Ohio with his lovely wife Jo, that this smiling, gentle man, and my American hero, would be embedded in my heart forever. Later, I know I was in his heart too, as he presented me with 2 gold coins that he received during his trip to Serbia in 2005 to honor General Mihailovich. It was then that they presented the General's daughter "Gordana" with the "Legion of Merit" Medal that had been awared to General Mihailovich posthumously and "secretly" in 1948. Unfortunately, influenced by our State Department, there was little media attention given to this historical event in 2005 as they did not want to compromise the current talks on Kosovo.
My wife Susan, who is Armenian like Arthur, has a grandmother who knew the Jibilians and thinks her sister dated Art. Grandma is 97 years old. It was then that our Serbian-Armenian ties got even stronger, and the man I had called "Jibby" became "Uncle Arthur". Both he and his wife "Aunt Jo" said they liked these terms, as neither of them had siblings with children so as to be called Uncle and Aunt, so it stuck. "With pride," I may add.
During these "early years" in our friendship, I told Arthur about the Tuskegee Airmen and their contributions to the Halyard Mission Rescue Operation in 1944 Yugoslavia. I also met with one of them, Lt. Col. Alexander Jefferson, author of “Red Tail Captured, Red Tail Free”. As a WWII P-51 pilot, Lt. Col. Jefferson was not even aware of the extent of these escort missions, or their assistance in the massive evacuations conducted by the Serbs loyal to General Mihailovich.
Through the years, Uncle Arthur and I would send each other numerous articles. Occasionally, he would send me a Serbian letter for my family to translate. What I cherished most was his photo collection. He would take the time and care to make copies of his photos for me and wrote a narrative on each before mailing them. Many of these had never been made "public" before. I had dreams of writing a book that would include these special photographs, or at least presenting them to the Smithsonian Institute. Thank God, Gregory Freeman wrote “The Forgotten 500”, and it was published in 2007, as this was one of the best things that ever happened for the recognition of the Halyard Mission, next to Arthur!
I wrote about Uncle Arthur to both of our church publications and wrote to numerous historical societies, aviation groups and magazines with limited success. Most of the politicians I wrote to responded quite similarly with, “Thank you for your letters, as we are all for helping our Vets.” It was the Serbian community who really supported, and fell in love with Arthur. Our "Jibilian Legions" grew through the years, but I would like to especially thank two of them: Aleksandra Rebic and Mim Bizic, who are relentless and tireless in their efforts to make the truth known. Their Web sites and persistence are surpassed by none, and every Serbian alive should be grateful they are writing for us. They are my friends, and I love them. Please visit their web sites: www.generalmihailovich.com and http://www.babamim.com/.
One of the biggest highs and also the biggest lows for “Me and Jibby” was in July 2005, when I met Lt. Col. Oliver North at the USS Indianapolis (CA35) reunion. I told him all about the Halyard Mission, Uncle Arthur’s photo collection and his documentations. Lt. Col. North not only contacted Arthur but flew him and a couple of other rescued airmen to the FOX studios in New York to film a documentary segment to be aired on his famous TV show: “Oliver North's War Stories”. Could this be our big break? We got word of the date that the show would air. How exciting! Both "Uncle Arthur" and I told everyone we could think of! Friends, family, historical groups, etc… As we set our recorders and watched with eager excitement and anticipation, nothing about the Halyard Mission was presented. Art was bitterly disappointed. They said it was a "scheduling problem", and that the Halyard Mission presentation would possibly be shown that fall. It never was. My guess was that Lt. Col. North was just following the State Department's wishes like a good soldier…
Sam Subotich and Lt. Col. Oliver North
July 22, 2005
Photo courtesy of Sam Subotich
One of my favorite memories of Uncle Arthur was on Flag Day, June 14th, 2008, at Ohio's Metcalf Field near Toledo. The Toledo chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) and the Yankee Air Force, (of whom I'm a life member #2151WR), honored our dear Arthur with a fly-in aboard our beautifully restored B-17 bomber called "Yankee Lady". With honor guards present and 512 American Flags on the ground for each of "Halyard's" rescued American airmen who were evacuated from Yugoslavia in 1944, a fitting tribute was given to Arthur with speeches and awards. This beautiful sunny day will live with me forever, as family and friends honored Arthur and the Halyard Mission. Too bad the Yankee Air Force did not see fit to publish an account of this event in their newsletter, but we are all used to that... This was also the first time I met my friend Milana Bizic, the lovely lady known "Baba Mim", in person!
Metcalf Field, Ohio June 14, 2008
Left to Right: Debi Jibilian (Arthur's daughter),
Friend of Mim Bizic, Arthur Jibilian, Sam Subotich
and Milana "Mim" Bizic
As letters turned into emails, Uncle Arthur and I continued our mutual fight to honor General Draza Mihailovich. In 2009, in one of the great highlights of his long, incredible life, Arthur Jibilian was nominated for the coveted Congressional Medal of Honor, and we were ecstatic! As Art would often say: “Sam, this is not about me; this is about General Mihailovich and the Serbian people, and if I can get the Congressional Medal of Honor, think of the weight this would bring, although I must admit, I am absolutely thrilled to have even been nominated." Arthur died on March 21, 2010 with the quest for the medal still pending...
I'm proud of Uncle Arthur for all his efforts and persistence to promote his story and this EPIC adventure called The Halyard Mission. Whether he was speaking at VFW halls, American Legion halls, Air Shows, Reunions, Parades, Radio Shows or the many Veteran events that he participated in, he spoke eloquently, first hand, and always with a smile. I will really miss all his emails informing me of his latest quests, yet, aside from his family and us, his friends, it is the proponents of the Halyard Mission and the Serbian people who will really feel the loss.
May God Rest Your Soul Uncle Arthur! Your life’s work is done and you can be proud. You have my promise that your "Jibilian Legions" will carry on your gallant fight for justice!
Sam "Savo" Subotich
April 24, 2010
If you would like to get in touch with me, Aleksandra, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org